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Friday’s free agent signings have become Brian Cashman’s trademark

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Balancing potential in the next season with high floors in seasons to come is a tough needle to thread.

American League Division Series Game 5: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I think Luke Voit may best sum up the new direction the Yankees have undertaken over the past decade or so. When he was acquired, we were all kind of sitting around wondering what this quad-A player could do in New York. Brian Cashman clearly liked him, but the idea that he could be any more than an incremental improvement was hard to fathom.

Of course, all he’s done since coming to the Bronx is be probably the best first baseman in the American League. Regardless of what Cashman may say, no executive bets on that kind of 99th percentile outcome — he figured Voit would be good, and worth more than the two relievers dealt, but couldn’t have predicted he’d be as good a hitter as Freddie Freeman or Aaron Judge.

What Luke Voit was at the time of acquisition, was a player who would raise the team’s floor for the next several years, while presenting the possibility of real upside in that first season, 2018. That balance seems to be at the core of every move Cashman makes, balancing the team’s ability to compete this year, while keeping the roster nimble and competitive down the road.

The signings of DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber on Friday do this as well. The Yankees return a talented if still flawed roster for 2021, perhaps the second best in the AL after the White Sox. LeMahieu is an MVP caliber bat to be sure, but the real value is in his high-contact, hard-hit based offensive output, that should age well and keeps the team’s offensive floor high for at least the next three or four seasons.

Meanwhile, Kluber is kind of the ultimate Right Now move. He might end up not being anything at all for the Yankees, but he’s only on the club for a year. Still, he represents a gamble on a big upgrade in the rotation, with the potential to be better than either Masahiro Tanaka or JA Happ were in 2020, at a lower price. Both signings hedge a whole lot of risk — if Kluber flames out, it’s only a one year deal, and while the last season of DJ’s contract might not be worthwhile, he’ll be paid so little in the front half that it likely won’t matter.

Cashman catches a lot of flak for not going “all-in” in any one season, including flak from yours truly. He doesn’t believe in pushing all the chips in for one shot at a championship, preferring to be competitive this year, and competitive next year, and the season after that. This has been borne out in what some fans have called prospect hugging or passing on major free agents not named Gerrit Cole, but it’s also built one of the most sustainable rosters in baseball.

Headed into 2021, the Yankees probably need one more pitcher. However, looking ahead to 2022, the Yankees will have their top two pitching prospects on the path to contribute for a full season to go along with a still-effective Gerrit Cole, and a lineup that will feature DJ, Aaron Judge, Voit, Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton. The team hasn’t really been the single-best, most-talented roster in any one given season, but continually returning a top three or four roster in the game seems to be the plan, and retaining DJ while adding Kluber is a big part of that.